Wednesday, August 20, 2014

City Mouse & Country Mouse

By Jonnie Martin

My cousin Sharon McAmis was the inspiration for my book, Wrangle.  Like the protagonist in the novel, Sharon ran her dad’s quarter horse ranch and she still owns acreage. We both live in Hempstead, Texas and there the similarities end, for I am a City Mouse and Sharon is a Country Mouse, and our lives could not be more different. 

Sharon’s day begins before sunrise with the crow of feral roosters in the trees.  She rolls out of bed into plaid shirt, jeans and boots, and strides outside to feed animals.  She opens the cages on the porch, to let hens and chicks out for daily grubbing, and unpens her 3 quarter horses and 5 thoroughbreds who freely roam the 15 acres.

As the sun creeps over the horizon and the kinetic sounds of animals increase, she makes mental note of the day’s errands.  Too early to pick up feed – hen scratch, chick starter, alfalfa, hay to horse standards.  A cow might eat anything, but not her well-bred horses, and the wet spring has compromised the hay supply.

A few more steps and she’s on the tractor, headed to the west field to continue her assault on Texas Goatweed, Silverleaf, Nightshade, Pigweed, and Thistle.  Over the past 3 years she has reclaimed 8 acres of pasture that had been lost to wild growth.  Sometimes she’s progressing; at other times she’s not sure.  It’s hard to keep accurate markers.

At 10:00 a.m. Sharon is still working the land, managing a burn pile, repairing fence line . . . and by now I have climbed bleary-eyed from bed.  I’m a late riser, a benefit of retirement, and first, last, always I trail to the computer to pick up emails, check the sales on Wrangle, and consult my writing and marketing schedule.

As Sharon’s day hits 90 degrees and rises, I’ve made an appointment to interview a rodeo cowboy, drafted a blog post about Cuero’s Chisholm Trail Museum, and calendared the deadline for submitting Wrangle for the WILLA Award.  By afternoon I am in sandals and sundress and headed to Houston boutiques.

By afternoon Sharon will have bought provisions and given the horses their afternoon shower; refilled the water tanks and headed out for more spraying, digging, burning, hauling, hoeing.  Late afternoon, she lets the horses into the corral for their night feed, first the two older mares so they get their fair share, and then the young ones, jockeying for position.

Then there is watered-down chick starter, dry and wet cat food, grain for the wood ducks who sit atop the barn, scolding.  As day fades Sharon walks the property, assessing the next day’s needs. At nightfall she clucks to the hens to bring along their babies, back into the protective cages on the porch.

By 10:00 p.m., I have dined out then headed home to a good book.  Sharon has missed supper to rescue a neighbor stuck in a field bog.  Soon we’ll each answer email, watch a late night TV show, perhaps talk by phone.  On a good night, we are both in bed at midnight.  One of us is terribly, terribly tired.

Jonnie Martin is a native Texan who returned both physically and emotionally to her home state to write her first novel, Wrangle, set on a 1970s quarter horse ranch (available on Amazon).  She also writes a bi-monthly column about ranchers and other “people of the land” for The Waller County News Citizen and a weekly blog, Jonnie’s Writerly Notes, about the West in general and Texas in particular.  Martin’s first career was as a journalist before migrating into business, where she continued to write.  In recent years she has completed a second Bachelor’s (in Literature and Creative Writing) and a Master’s (an MFA in Fiction).

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